“Imagine your business is a bucket and your leads are water. You don’t want to pour water into a leaky bucket; it’s a waste of money. That’s why a true growth hacker would care about customer retention.”

Growth Hacking. One of the most recognized terms in the marketing world. From explosive marketing to rapid product acceleration, this unique method of marketing has become the beacon of success for hundreds of companies across the world. But what exactly does it mean?

While “hacking” has a cheating connotation, let’s not stick a red flag on Growth Hacking just yet. In fact, there’s very little hacking with this marketing approach and its origination focuses on the person behind the efforts – “someone whose true north is growth”. Growth Hacking is the combination of conventional and unconventional marketing experiments, using techniques like analytics and A/B testing with innovative messaging and exposure to gain traction. It’s more about user engagement than anything else, so for the sake of this piece let’s refer to it as “Engagement Growth”.

Fill the cracks

With the consistent theme of being a low-cost alternative to traditional advertising like TV Commercials, here we focus on viral digital initiatives. It’s become centric in the online marketing ecosystem, becoming a cornerstone for startups looking to raise capital and scale their fledgling tech company while larger corporations are starting to adopt it to stay relevant in a rapidly changing economy.

One of my favorite examples of Engagement Growth happened back in 2010 with a small company (at that time) call WePay, a PayPal competitor. PayPal was hosting their developer conference in San Francisco when a 600 pound block of ice that read “PayPal freezes your accounts, unfreeze your money” was dropped off courtesy of WePay. Within minutes, social media was blowing up with pictures of the ice block, some of the most influential tech publishers like TechCrunch were writing about it…WePay was on the map. What people didn’t know at the time was that WePay was specifically created because of the founders’ frustrations with PayPal freezing their accounts. It was the perfect combination of a flash-in-the-pan PR stunt and true passion for the product.

“The goal of any marketing should be long-term sustainable growth, not just a short-term gain. Growth hacking is about optimization as well as lead generation.”

It’s great to see a massive spike in users after a stunt like the one WePay pulled, but it doesn’t end here. Unless you can sustain customer loyalty and growth trajectory, your efforts will ultimately mean nothing and you won’t go on to raise capital or build the business you’ve dreamed of. Back in the early days of the start-up bubble, VC Firms and larger companies would invest in or acquire any app that had a million downloads. They thought “oh wow, a million people downloaded this, it must be on to something” and boy how wrong they were. All of those investors who lost their shirt on download numbers soon realized it was all about DAUs (Daily Active Users) and retention statistics. Simply put = this isn’t a one-night stand approach. It requires an immense amount of strategy and planning prior to implementation so that you’re not converting just any users, but YOUR target users. WePay didn’t drop their block off at PayPal just to flip the bird to their largest competitor, it’s because it was directly in sight of their target audience. A target audience who would make this block viral to other members of their target audience. It was this well-thought out plan with execution and conversion of the right users that led WePay to go on to raise over $50M and grow to 200 employees to date.

Building out from the Core

Now we’ve got our core loyalists, what’s next? We turn our attention to building our talent base, the best talent we can find that fit our culture. To do that we must create an employer brand that supports the company’s brand, which encompasses our Engagement Growth brand. They all must work together with one another or the machine falls apart. Once we’ve got the people, it’s time to plan the roadmap for expansion. The second you allow your business to stand still is the second you allow it to die. Function roll-outs and product releases will help you generate opportunities for more Engagement Growth tactics. The more your business expands, the more employees you bring on, and the more partnerships you create will create windows for innovative and creative marketing ploys. This will increase user engagement and loyalty, which will allow your company to sustain its growth and keep planning for what comes next.

It’s important to recognize that while luck and passion play a huge role here, the most essential element is Brand Strategy. Brand sets the parameters to mitigate risk from an experiment and turn it into tangible results that move the needle for your business. From the basics to scaling, creative passion mixed with strategy will take a coined term like “Growth Hacking” and turn it into a business that will leave people wondering, “what will they do next?”.